Every family has a few skeletons in the closet, but the characters of JSU Drama’s “Fool for Love” have locked away a whole cemetery.
Brash cowboy Eddie catches up to his high-school sweetheart May in the desert motel where she’s hiding out from him. Soon May’s new boyfriend Martin is dragged into the ex-lovers’ complicated past, while they contend with the apparition of the Old Man, a mysterious figure who knows both Eddie and May. The thematic maturity easily earns the play’s recommendation to leave the children at home: “Fool for Love” is a grown-up’s play.
“These people are messed up, but they have the most passion,” said JSU senior Cody Hunt, who plays Eddie, “but it’s spinning out of control.”
Playwright Sam Shepard peppers the verbal sparring with harsh language unusual for a JSU production, but it feels like a necessity here — not a garish announcement of adult situations. As the characters’ grim history is pieced together for Martin and the audience — their families and romantic entanglements, the many times May escaped and returned, only for Eddie to give her new reasons to run — the play loses the language but keeps the intensity.
“They’re driven by this magnetic thing, not necessarily love,” said JSU senior Carrie Shaw, who plays May. “All of us are in love with the idea of love.”
May, as she tries to escape a bad relationship, might be the easiest character to root for but even she takes her turn in the role of antagonist, at times goading Eddie’s giddy pursuit. Adding to the realism of the play, say the actors, is the characters’ belief in the merit of their actions — everyone is a hero in their own story even if they’re a villain in someone else’s. It’s a concept most clearly seen in the ghostlike character of the Old Man, who must rely on the other characters to tell his story.
“From the Old Man’s point of view the play is about a big mistake that he has to deal with until the day he dies and beyond that, through their images of him,” said JSU senior Maurice Winsell, who portrays the Old Man.
There are laughs to temper the regrets — May keeps her liquor glasses in the bathroom medicine cabinet to protect them from germs; Eddie panics more than once that a jilted ex has followed him to the motel — giving the audience quick breaths before plunging back into the drama. Even when the comedy thins out, the dialogue and action are quick, keeping the story from being mired in misery. The play’s modern style and pace were a big part of director Dr. Michael Boynton’s decision to present the play at JSU.
“It’s about exposing Jacksonville audiences to a very iconic and important American playwright, with something a little more contemporaneous,” said Boynton. “It hits home with people, masculinity and femininity in terms of the American identity.”
Audience members are ultimately left to decide on their own interpretation (don’t groan just yet — there’s a concrete ending). But according to Hunt, the play was never intended to offer easy answers, making the existential crisis that follows a big part of the viewing experience.
“It raises all these questions without any moral lesson,” said Hunt. “You should leave the play thinking, ‘What do I do now? What is life about?’”
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.